Little restaurant, big flavor.
The Taqueria y Micheladas Don Efren on the Boston Post Road in Allingtown (in the West Haven Post) is a little enclave tucked between the Hong Kong Market and the Family Dollar – if not for the burgeoning hanging plants, festive Cerveza Modelo pennants and window lighting, you might not notice it from the road. But believe it – this is a place that deserves to be noticed.
Owners Adrian Rodriguez and his wife Lymarie preside over their eatery as if they were your beloved tios, cooking and serving for their family. And family is a big part of the culture at Don Efren. Adrian himself hails from the state of Jalisco, the oldest of ten children who came to the United States alone at 14 when he was contracted to do work here. Rodriguez says he opened his restaurant in West Haven because he likes the community very much – “The people here are friendly, very agreeable…I like it here.” The restaurant opened in 2018 and has done a good business both in-store and take out.
Rodriguez continues that he wanted to open a business that was a bit different from other establishments. In keeping with the family theme, he named the eatery for his father (the oldest of 43 – yes, you read that right, 43) children. “I am so proud of my father,” he explains. “He died five years ago, and he worked all his life, 52 years here- I am very proud of him.” Don Efren is the behatted gentleman in the photo which is on the menus and the restaurant’s sign.
Lymarie explains that in the restaurant’s uber-colorful decor, she wanted to strike a balance between contemporary and traditional. The result is a cozy but airy-feeling ambience that simply radiates cheerfulness. The curved ceiling, polished light wood banquettes, neon lamp and dark taupe walls are clean, simple, modern; the traditional Mexican pottery lamps and wall decor add color and warmth. The painted tables and wood-backed chairs alone are worth a separate look, The tables were ordered from Tonala, in Mexico, where they were hand painted and shine with glass-bright glossy varnish; every one is different The chairs are also all different, some having decoupaged Mexican scenes and most featuring carved figures with a tropical vibe (toucans, suns, palms etc.). Try this place on a dreary day for a really quick pick-me-up before you even get a whiff of the delicious food.
Don Efren is known for its specialties. Tacos are a favorite, and they feature many to delight the meat lovers among us: carnitas (pulled pork), lengua (tongue), tripa (beef tripe, very popular house recipe – a customer favorite), cueritos (pork rinds), chorizo (sausage), tacos al pastor (grilled, marinated pork), buche (pork stomach), birria (stewed meat with chili), and barbecue, as well as chicken and steak. Fish and shrimp tacos are also popular. The shop also features tasty burritos, tortas, enchiladas, and tostadas, along with hearty stews,pozole and menudo. Fried fish is a big seller also, according to Lymarie, and vegetarian options are also available. Beverages are also special at Don Efren: the eponymous micheladas (beer-based refreshing drinks – house recipes) along with aguas frescas (horchata, tamarind, passion fruit and pineapple) are tall, cool and quenching.
On weekends, lines can be out the door at Don Efren, with patrons coming from near and far (out of state? Not out of the Don’s orbit). Customers come for the food and drink, but also the feeling that permeates the place . “I wanted a family atmosphere,” Rodriguez reiterates, explaining that that is the reason why several Mexican beer brands are available at the establishment, but no hard liquor.
“I make the food fresh every day,” says Rodriguez. Lymarie and two other employees cook and serve.. “It’s authentic, homemade and fresh,” they say, “That’s what we want.” Rodriguez smiles. “I love the United States.And I love its culture. I’m thankful I was able to have a business here.”
Lymarie nods and says, “We’re blessed.”
With Don Efren in our midst, West Haven could say the same.